SOUTH BEND, Indiana – One of the best parts about the annual outdoor Winter Classic is the memories it churns up in the players. The vast majority of players who take part in the NHL’s signature event grew up playing outdoors on ponds, lakes or even in backyard rinks that have become more and more popular over the years.
The Bruins are no different, of course. Some players like David Krejci, or Kevan Miller, with his upbringing in California, simply never had that much experience playing outdoors when they were younger, and they’re making up for lost time now with the B’s involvement in Winter Classics every couple of seasons.
Still, for others, there’s a link between suiting up at Notre Dame Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks on New Year’s Day and so many of those games outdoors with friends and family where things like the cold, the wind and winter elements just added enjoyment.
So, here are a few of the Bruins talking about their experience playing outdoors as youngsters and how those memories come flooding back with each Winter Classic that they participate in:
“It’s just childhood memories. I grew up skating on community outdoor rinks and small sheets of ice with my brother and friends after school or whenever we could sneak in some time. It definitely brings back a lot of memories. It’s the third one [for me], but it never gets old.”
Jake DeBrusk: “I did. I never thought I would be able to play in [an outdoor game], but I guess it’s one of those things where it comes full circle. It’s one of those special moments for me personally. I’m looking at it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was there once as a fan [at the Heritage Classic in Edmonton] and now I’m able to play in it. I’m going to try and take full advantage of the opportunity. Whether it was after school or whatever, there was a lot of [playing outdoors] in Edmonton. It was throwing sticks in the middle and then you get teams going to play out there. It was pretty natural.”
“We played a lot outdoors whether it was a frozen river or lake. It was always special to have that feeling as a kid of the fresh air, and playing on an uneven surface. Those were fun days and great memories. Playing outdoors where you separate the sticks and you’re playing with different friends, and you close your eyes and pretend you are ‘so and so’ player and you’re scoring the winning goal.”
Brad Marchand: “We always lived on a pond or a lake [in Nova Scotia] or had a backyard rink every year in the winter time. So it was an everyday thing that we did growing up. It was always very cold, so the lakes and ponds would freeze early. We’d spend a ton of time outside skating around. I keep saying I hope it snows [on New Year’s Day] because I just think it would add to the experience. It would be pretty cool to see.”
Charlie McAvoy: “Those were some of my favorite times [as a family] skating in the backyard rink. Some of my best childhood memories are just being out there with my dad because he was the one that got me into hockey. He’d be out there for what seemed like the whole winter with me. He’d always come out and skate with me after he’d worked all day. We’ve got some great pictures and memories of it. And I grew up watching [the Winter Classic], I think I was maybe 9 or 10 years old with the first one with the Penguins and Buffalo.”
David Backes: “A lot of outdoor hockey. Probably over half of my practices as a kid were on outdoor ice because it was free and readily available. We’d practice and then stay on to have some fun and screw around time with my buddies afterward. There’s a mental side of it where your toes were freezing, but you had to play through the pain and the agony to do what you loved to do.”
Joakim Nordstrom: “The rink I started skating on is a half-mile away from where I grew up was outdoors. It’s not an outdoor rink anymore, but it was until maybe 10 years ago. Next to that rink, there was a soccer field they would freeze over and leave it open for anybody that wanted to skate. So you would go there and skate basically anytime during the day or night because they’d leave the lights on all the time. You didn’t have to be a hockey player. You just had to have a pair of skates to go out there and enjoy skating around.”
Chris Wagner: “I had a pond down the street from my house that was about a five-minute walk, and it was pretty secluded. So it was pretty cool. It was a good spot. We played a lot. My brother and my dad would play, and the kids in the neighborhood. We had a pretty good crew. We also had a kid Tommy Harrington in Walpole that would put up the lights and stuff in his backyard. Yeah, it was right by the prison. We’d stay out pretty late playing. It was a snow hill right down the pond.”
Tuukka Rask: “I’m not a fan [of outdoor hockey]. But if it’s my turn to play, then I play. The stadium is so weird that I have a tough time picking up the puck. It’s that everything is so far away that the puck seems smaller. But it’s all in your eyes like when you’re not seeing the puck well in a game. Up until I was about eight years old I played outside all the time.”
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